The Big Ideas

How to Keep U.S.-Chinese Confrontation From Ending in Calamity

Foreign Affairs

Kevin Rudd | President, Asia Society & former Australian Prime Minister
How to Keep U.S.-Chinese Confrontation From Ending in Calamity
How to Keep U.S.-Chinese Confrontation From Ending in Calamity
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February 14, 2021
BIG IDEA | The two countries need to consider something akin to the procedures and mechanisms that the United States and the Soviet Union put in place to govern their relations after the Cuban missile crisis—but in this case, without first going through the near-death experience of a barely avoided war.'

'Officials in Washington and Beijing don’t agree on much these days, but there is one thing on which they see eye to eye: the contest between their two countries will enter a decisive phase in the 2020s.'

  • 'This will be the decade of living dangerously.'

'No matter what strategies the two sides pursue or what events unfold, the tension between the United States and China will grow, and competition will intensify; it is inevitable.'

  • 'War, however, is not.'

'The two countries need to consider something akin to the procedures and mechanisms that the United States and the Soviet Union put in place to govern their relations after the Cuban missile crisis—but in this case, without first going through the near-death experience of a barely avoided war.'

  • 'It remains possible for the two countries to put in place guardrails that would prevent a catastrophe:'
  • 'a joint framework for what I call “managed strategic competition” would reduce the risk of competition escalating into open conflict.'

'Managed strategic competition would involve establishing certain hard limits on each country’s security policies and conduct but would allow for full and open competition in the diplomatic, economic, and ideological realms.'

  • 'It would also make it possible for Washington and Beijing to cooperate in certain areas, through bilateral arrangements and also multilateral forums.'

'Although such a framework would be difficult to construct, doing so is still possible—and the alternatives are likely to be catastrophic.'

My Take

Mr. Rudd is of course right. There is a real danger of a U.S.-China clash arising from misjudgment. His proposal would help ameliorate this a bit. BTW the rest of the analysis in the essay is terrific.